In Summary

  • Kagame and his ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front have held an iron grip on power since overthrowing the extremist Hutu regime.
  • Habineza finally managed to register his party in 2013 after returning to the country.

KIGALI

On the impeccably clean streets of Rwanda's capital, where a skyline of gleaming new buildings pokes through undulating hills, few have heard of opposition presidential aspirants Frank Habineza and Philippe Mpayimana.

They were only confirmed as candidates and allowed to begin fundraising a week before Friday's campaign start for August 4 presidential polls in the east African nation.

With little money, and only three weeks to drum up support, the two men face a seemingly insurmountable task in challenging the all-powerful President Paul Kagame, who is expected to easily win a third term in office.

GENOCIDE

"We as the population have lived a long time with our president (Kagame). We only know what he has done, we don't care about the other candidates," says One Love Nkundimana, 28, who works as a street porter.

Kagame and his ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front have held an iron grip on power since overthrowing the extremist Hutu regime, which perpetrated the 1994 genocide of 800,000 mainly Tutsis.

While credited with bringing order, infrastructure and stability to the shattered nation, rights groups say Kagame's regime rules through fear with systematic repression of the opposition, free speech and the media.

"We know many people are tired of the same government for 23 years but they don't say it because there has been a climate of fear," Habineza, 40, told AFP.

In his starkly decorated office in the capital, Habineza is still absorbing the fact that he is finally on the ballot paper eight years since he began the struggle to register his Democratic Green Party.

IMPRISONED

"It has been a very difficult journey and also a very dangerous journey," he told AFP.

He describes political meetings violently broken up, supporters imprisoned or forced to flee into exile, and his own departure to Sweden after his deputy was found decapitated shortly before the last election in 2010.

Habineza finally managed to register his party in 2013 after returning to the country, and was the lone voice against a 2015 constitutional reform that cleared the way for Kagame to run again.

Page 1 of 2